Wed, 21 Aug 2019

For some of the world's wealthiest, checking off their travel bucket list just got easier.

In April, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts announced it was in the process of converting a narrow-body Airbus A321LR aircraft to replace its current plane, which premiered in 2015 for lavish group excursions at $150 000 (just over R2m) or more per ticket. This new jet has room for 48 passengers, larger bathrooms, more social areas, and interactive workshops onboard.

Now the hotel giant has released its itineraries, set to take off in 2021.

Two are back by popular demand. The Timeless Encounters journey focuses on vibrant city centers and tranquil islands in nine destinations, while the International Intrigue trip is a four-continent trek through cultural capitals, remote islands, and the African savannah.

Four Seasons has also designed two brand-new offerings, using feedback from past customers, says Javier Loureiro, director of guest experience at Four Seasons. Repeat jet guests made up 34% of the travelers in 2019.

"Having a private jet really gives you the flexibility to do a more global itinerary," says Loureiro. While guests have the means to do one continent on their own, he says a worldwide trip of this luxury calibre and all its attendant activities would be much more difficult and time-intensive to pull together by themselves.

For instance, one of the new offerings is the Remote Wonders trip, scheduled to take off on Dec. 31, 2020, and end on Jan. 20, 2021. This 21-day journey kicks off with a New Year's Eve party in Dubai before flying to Hoi An, Vietnam, where guests are treated to custom-designed outfits from the city's famed tailors.

Then it's off to Cambodia and Bangkok, followed by a sail through the Seychelles and a trek through the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda to observe gorillas in their national habitat. Guests end the trip with a torch-lit barbecue feast in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park before returning to Dubai.

24-day whirlwind

The other new trip is a 24-day whirlwind from Oct. 5-28, 2021, called Ancient Explorer that starts in Miami, includes a stop in Mexico City for a class by mezcal distillers, then proceeds to explore Easter Island by horseback. That's followed by snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and a visit to Koh Samui, Thailand, to learn the art of Muay Thai boxing from professional fighters. Then guests wander the ancient streets of Petra in Jordan to learn about the intricate carvings and rock-cut buildings.

The journey finishes with back-to-back stops at new Four Seasons properties in Greece and Spain, where explorers can check out the Parthenon in Athens or opt for a private flamenco class in Madrid.

"If they tried to do a itinerary like this on their own, it would probably take three months," Loureiro says.

Kate Corey, founder of luxury travel company 6 Degrees, agrees with that sentiment, saying the value of the Four Seasons trips stems from the ability to combine so many stops in a short time frame.

"It's for that top, top, high-end traveller who has the means and values their time over their money, almost," she says.

The ease of travel and lack of logistical work for customers is another huge part of the appeal, says Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director at travel website Points Guy. Many of the cities Four Seasons is connecting via private jet would otherwise require lengthy ground transfers.

"This is definitely geared more toward the seasoned traveler, where they are at the point in their lives that they want to check off some places they have never seen before but want to do it with minimal pain to their bodies," he adds.

Mayerowitz expects such private jet trips to become more popular in the coming years, especially as the Baby Boom generation retires. According to a study by Tiburon Strategic Advisors, this generation's wealth is expected to increase to $40.7 trillion of investible assets by 2027.

Loureiro says Four Seasons plans to slowly increase the number of trips a year, from four to six and possibly, eight.

'I don't think anyone could say it's a bargain'

Competitors in the luxury jet travel space include Crystal Cruises, which offers a Boeing 777 that can be privately chartered for leisure travel and group events, as well as Abercrombie and Kent's private jet journeys, in which 50 guests travel on a charted Boeing 757 with an executive chef and lie-flat seats.

Lindsey Epperly, founder and chief executive officer of Epperly Travel, who has had clients take Four Seasons jet journeys before, notes that Abercrombie and Kent's offering allows for customization of hotels and accommodations, while Four Seasons' guests exclusively stay in the brand's hotels. The trade-off for consistency in lodging quality is one of personalization. However, the Four Seasons travelers have the chance to branch out on reaching a locale.

"It's not like this is a flying tour bus," she says. "Once on the ground, they can do their own private experiences. But Four Seasons adds to the efficiency of getting there."

Still, the length of the trip could be a limiting factor for some, who may not be able to take a month off work, says Michael Holtz, founder and CEO of SmartFlyer travel agency. He thinks the industry will see more week-long private jet trips as the number of these offerings increase.

And there's still that hefty price tag.

"I don't think anyone could say that this is a bargain," Mayerowitz says. "There are many parts of this country where you could buy a multi-bedroom house for that price."

The cost for each trip begins at $163 000 (R2.2m) per person, based on double occupancy, an uptick from the previously announced $147 000 per person. You can begin booking now. Or, if you can't wait until 2021, there are still seats open on Four Seasons 2020 journeys, including the International Intrigue, Timeless Encounters, and World of Adventures.

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